Medical Definition of Migraine headache

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Migraine headache: The most common type of vascular headache involving abnormal sensitivity of arteries in the brain to various triggers resulting in rapid changes in the artery size due to spasm (constriction). Other arteries in the brain and scalp then open (dilate), and throbbing pain is perceived in the head. The tendency to migraine is inherited and appears to involve serotonin, a chemical in the brain involved in the transmission of nerve impulses that trigger the release of substances in the blood vessels that in turn cause the pain of the migraine. These nerve impulses cause the flashing lights and other sensory phenomena known as an aura that may accompany a migraine. Not all severe headaches are migraines and not all migraines are severe.

Factors known to make migraines worse in some patients include stress, food sensitivities, menstruation, and the onset of menopause. Most patients will feel better if they lie down and avoid bright lights. Prevention measures can include taking preventative medication (usually an antispasmodic) and avoiding any known migraine triggers. Medication is also available that can ease the pain of a current migraine.

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Reviewed on 12/12/2018

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